Post 21, Ludhiana

6:45 p.m.: Shailendra’s uncle Pradeep Rishi arrives at Ludhiana. My colleague Atul and I meet him at the railway station. Pradeep is on his way to Poonch, in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), where he will work with a contractor from Forbesgunj to construct school buildings affiliated with a church. The contractor, Mansur Alam, has instructed him to meet his ‘agent’ in Vijaynagar, where he will be paid an advance. Pradeep is looking forward to receiving the advance because the INR 1000 with which he left home does not promise to last long.

Although this is the first time Pradeep is going to Poonch, he is very familiar with other cities in J&K, especially Jammu and Srinagar. He has been going there for the last fifteen years. The uncertain political situation in the State, especially the frequent curfews, have not deterred him and others like him, many of whom are from Bihar. People there treat us with a great deal of respect, he says. “When they hear we have come for employment, they tell us- ‘yes, make sure you earn well and eat well’. People in Punjab can sometimes be quite rude. But never in J&K.” Pradeep asks me to join him in J&K. I promptly take up his offer, and tell him I will make plans soon.

Credit: Ankur Jaiswal

Credit: Ankur Jaiswal

The train Pradeep was on is over four hours late. As a result, he has missed the train he was scheduled to take, and will now take a later train. Over some chai and snacks, he tells us that Sundar and his brother will return to Ludhiana shortly, but are not likely to work for Damodar any more. Rather, they have made contact with a Sikh contractor in Khanna, for whom they propose to work.  I wonder to myself is Shailendra is aware of this plan!

11 p.m.: Pradeep boards the train to Poonch. The train leaves soon thereafter.